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Family tells of grief over British swine flu

London — Relatives of a swine flu patient who died at a British hospital spoke of their devastation Monday as authorities appealed for calm over the first death from the pandemic beyond the Americas.

Jacqui Fleming, 38, from the Scottish city of Glasgow, died in hospital on Sunday, two weeks after giving birth prematurely to her second child.

Her family was dealt a new blow on Monday as health officials announced that the baby boy named Jack, born June 1, had died of complications not related to the virus.

The boy’s father, William McCann, said his "beautiful son" suffered from a number of complications and "despite his brave fight" passed away at a special care baby unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland.

Fleming’s family earlier said in a statement they were "absolutely devastated" by her death.

"Jacqueline has been ill in hospital for a number of weeks but nothing can prepare you for such shattering news," the statement said.

Government officials urged people to remain calm, as Scotland’s health minister Nicola Sturgeon emphasised that most A(H1N1) flu cases were relatively mild and that the "risk to the general public remains low."

England’s health ministry said it was monitoring the situation "very closely." Britain has more than 1,250 cases, nine of whom are still undergoing treatment in hospital.

Fleming’s death came three days after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic because of the geographical spread of A(H1N1) influenza and raised its global alert to the maximum level of six.

The virus, which was first detected in Mexico in April, has so far infected almost 36,000 people in 76 countries and claimed 163 lives, according to the latest WHO figures.

Until the death of Fleming, who had other undisclosed health problems, swine flu fatalities had been limited to six countries in the Americas.

Even though the WHO said it was not recommending restrictions on movement of people, the Indian health minister government urged young Indians to avoid international travel "until this disease is controlled globally."

"They can suspend their visits for the time being and they can go after two or three months," said Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, apparently in light of the fact that younger people appeared to be experiencing more severe symptoms from the illness.

WHO chief Margaret Chan warned that the pandemic could cripple fragile health services in poor countries.

"Developing countries have the greatest vulnerability and the least resilience. They will be hit the hardest and take the longest to recover," she told a UN forum on global health.

The virus’ geographic spread was highlighted Monday when the Solomon Islands, a remote archipelago in the South Pacific, reported its first suspected case.

In Australia, the government said it was ready to ratchet up its swine flu alert as the national tally hit 1,458 cases.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the whole country would soon move to the "sustain" phase, Australia’s second-highest, which gives authorities the power to cancel sports events, close schools and restrict travel. But officials say extreme measures such as closing national borders are unlikely.

In the Philippines, authorities reported the country’s first cluster of domestic swine flu cases after 11 primary school students were infected in a remote northern village on Luzon island.

Meanwhile, Thai health authorities said they would step up the monitoring of workplaces and schools after the number of cases soared twelve-fold in less than a week, with 51 new cases taking the number in the kingdom to 201.

"People should not panic," said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. "The death ratio for the new flu is probably lower than normal flu."

Back in Europe, Croatia thought it had recorded its first swine flu case, only to be forced to retract its announcement after the London lab that conducted the test said the results were wrong after all.

In Germany, the number of swine flu cases climbed to 172, including 65 children at a Japanese school in the western city of Düsseldorf — the scene of an outbreak last week.